Tuesday, June 21, 2016

We Can't All Be Smart

"As recently as the 1950s, possessing only middling intelligence was not likely to severely limit your life’s trajectory...The 2010s, in contrast, are a terrible time to not be brainy...We must stop glorifying intelligence and treating our society as a playground for the smart minority. We should instead begin shaping our economy, our schools, even our culture with an eye to the abilities and needs of the majority, and to the full range of human capacity...Smart people should feel entitled to make the most of their gift. But they should not be permitted to reshape society so as to instate giftedness as a universal yardstick of human worth."
I just read an outstanding piece in The Atlantic that addresses an issue that's concerned me for some time. It decries the glorification of smart people and the corresponding derogation of not-so-smart people in our increasingly meritocratic society.

It says that while having a high IQ and/or high academic performance indicators is increasingly the gateway to the better jobs, people with lower IQ's and/or academic achievement indicators are perfectly capable of doing some of those jobs as well as anybody, but not only do they not get the chance, but they're also looked down on and even made fun of with impunity.

The article also points out that not everybody has the innate ability to score well on standard IQ or SAT tests or to graduate with honors from high school and college, and that it isn't fair for a society to essentially determine a person's worth on the basis of these standards and to award all the spoils to those who excel in them.

Yes, great head start programs can help elevate socioeconomically disadvantaged kids to higher IQ scores and academic performance, but we don't spend enough and hire and train enough capable people to produce enough uniformly excellent programs of this type. And, yes, better programs to find gifted children in socioeconomically disadvantaged areas and to provide them with educational enrichment to make the most of their superior potential can help them to do just that.

But none of this will help the lot of us who can't be molded into smart people by any special interventions. What's to become of us?

The article recommends that we should have more schools for solid vocational training. There are still plenty of fairly well-paying jobs for people with strong skills in non-academic areas that don't require conventionally high IQ's. However, one problem is that the few schools that now specialize in this kind of training still admit a disproportionate number of applicants on the basis of high academic performance.

And then there's the problem the article doesn't address of what to do with freaks like me. I've written ad nauseum in this blog about my learning challenges, so there's no need to elaborate here except to say that while my verbal IQ and fluency is relatively high, my overall cognitive functioning is severely compromised by my very low nonverbal ability, making me and people like me unfit for vocational training for most "skilled" jobs and hindered enough even in academic areas to be incapable of excelling there either.

I don't know what the answer is to the issues the article and I raise. All I know is that not all of us are or can be made smart enough to "make it" in a society that seems to be obsessed with high IQ's and academic performance and in which more and more of the jobs that remain after an increasing number of others are displaced by automation will undeniably require high IQ's. And I think we as a society need to find ways not only to make sure that those of us who aren't in the shrinking, privileged, intellectual minority can still survive and flourish economically, but that we are also not disparaged and excluded for being less than brilliant.

Human worth is or should be seen as a beautiful quality intrinsic to all persons, and everyone should be esteemed and treated accordingly. And to those who say, "In a perfect world, this might be possible, but in THIS world it is not," I would say, "Isn't part of the gift and purpose of humankind to dream things that never were and ask 'Why not?' and to work to make them so?"

1 comment:

Thomas Armstrong said...

Thankfully, robotics and genius computers will out-perform everybody in just a few years, making human intelligence as a job-getter worthless.

It will still matter so far as relationships go with family or friends if you are smart or not, however. We still get to choose who we spend time with. So, Steve, you better renew your subscription with the New York Times so you can read the articles and opinion pieces and solve the killer BIG NYT crossword puzzle, or I may have to dump your from my FRIENDS LIST and replace you with Donald Trump.